From a beach in the Far East to the beaches of Barrow-in-Furness – Jo Northey’s journey has bridged continents.
After three years in post as a youth worker for St Andrew’s Church in Hong Kong, Jo felt moved to go for ordination.
But that was only after she took herself off to a retreat centre on the nearby island of Cheung Chau for a week to listen to what God wanted for her next.
Seven years later and Jo, 40, is now Team Vicar for the South Barrow Team Ministry in Cumbria.
Those intervening years saw her complete a context-based training course at Trinity College Bristol – where she met her husband Ed – followed by two years curacy training in Swindon.
The move north came in the summer of 2011 as the married couple looked to find a curacy which would suit them both – that proved to be in Barrow.
“The biggest hurdle for us was to think we would be moving away from structures of support we had in terms of a family with young children,” Jo explains.
“It was a really big move. We went for an informal visit to St Mark’s, where our curacy eventually started, and it just felt right.
“Here was a place so far from anywhere we knew but as soon as we started to worship we knew we were in the right place. Everyone was so welcoming.”
Jo readily admits that her’s has been a nomadic life. The daughter of a clergyman, she spent time in the Midlands, in Scotland and later spent time in Malawi as well as Hong Kong.
But she says there’s a sense of belonging in Barrow. That’s built from a common mission as church communities unite to address real problems of poverty and deprivation which some families are facing.
“One thing that Carlisle Diocese is very good at is looking for where there may be different opportunities,” Jo explains. “Because I was an extra part of my remit was to help develop ways in which churches in Barrow could work more closely together.
“So half of my time was devoted to St Mark’s and half was to the Deanery.”
It meant that in 2012 Jo and a parishioner from St Mark’s gathered an ecumenical team to set up the town’s Foodbank. Jo acted as project manager initially and worked to secure start-up costs. It’s a project which is serving dozens of people across the town.
Jo says: “I think I have seen that there are real needs for people living here but there is a real community spirit and a real vibrancy to Barrow. The Church has woken up to the fact that we can do something about it.”
Married with that sense of mission and outreach is that Jo and her family feel at home in this northern parish where she feels the Spirit is very much at work.
“I just see God doing so much here and in a way that I haven’t seen happen in some other places,” Jo adds.
“It’s great to be able to see people working together for God’s purpose and it reflects that fact that as people we’re defined by God’s love, how we love other people and how we work in His name.”
And the beautiful countryside is an obvious draw too, with the Lake District a 30 minute drive away and some beautiful beaches nearby.
Jo explains: “I can see the sea from my bedroom so I can lie in bed and write a sermon looking out across the docks. I can look across the town and pray for the town. Quite simply, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”